New Grad, New Mom: Lessons Learned in My First Year Out of College

Photo from Unsplash by Sharon McCutcheon

I graduated from college eight years ago, but similar to today’s 2020 graduates, my first year out of college was much different from the norm. However, while young adults today are trying to navigate their life and career during a global emergency, my circumstances were much more positive. I was about to become a mom for the first time.

Instead of throwing myself into a new job, I was wrapping up loose ends at the job I had worked through college in preparation for maternity leave, with plans to return to the same job when I was ready. I was setting up a nursery and reading up on breastfeeding and giving birth. 

Looking back now, as my daughter is just turning 8, I can see that year was full of personal growth for me. All of that time spent learning how to care for a child came with important lessons, and not just about being a mom. I was learning important lessons about being a new graduate, too. 

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Finding my new normal

During college, so many of us kept weird schedules managing part-time jobs, demanding classes, and our desire to have a good time. Once I became a mom, it felt like I was still on my college schedule. I was getting very little sleep, and I was still running on fumes.

Eventually, I realized this life I was living was my new normal, but I was treating it with the same temporary survival mindset I had during my senior year. Whether you’re starting a new family or starting a career, it is important to step out of a “just get through it” mindset and think about how to make your new lifestyle work for you for the long-term.

No matter how demanding your new responsibilities might be, find a way to build a routine that keeps you happy and healthy for the long term. It took time, but I learned to prioritize getting enough sleep, exercising and eating healthy, and a little social time each week. Which meant letting go of things like late nights watching TV or spending too much time being perfectionistic about housework. With time, my new life after college felt routine.

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Take it seriously… but not too seriously

Much like jumping into a new career, becoming a new mom felt so serious. What I was doing was important, that’s for sure, but I started acting as if every choice I made was life or death. Was switching to formula going to harm my child? Was working late one night going to change the way she felt about me? This made me anxious, and it took some of the fun out of a really enjoyable time of my life.

That first year out of college is full of important transitions, but it should also feel exciting. If you’re struggling to enjoy your new life, a few small changes could help. For example, I learned quickly that I needed to intentionally add things to my schedule purely for the fun of it. I scheduled playdates long before my daughter cared to socialize because it cheered me up to see my friends. For a new college grad heading into the workforce, this could mean a standing lunch or weekend plan that has nothing to do with the important work of being an adult. 

I also found a therapist to talk to. While I was overwhelmed with all of the responsibility in my life, having a counselor who could help me put things in perspective was an important part of learning to take each day in stride.

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Be ready to make mistakes

You’ve worked so hard to get a degree, shouldn’t that first post-college year be simple? It rarely goes that way. At 31 years old, I can see how the last eight years of my life were a time of learning. So much of that learning took place because I was making a lot of mistakes.

From missteps in my career to parenting errors and blunders in my relationships, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes over the last eight years. It was during that first year out of college, however, that I started to realize that avoiding mistakes altogether was never the goal. After missing a few things at work, and beating myself up over it, it became clear that what I needed wasn’t to feel terrible. Instead, I needed to learn from the mistake and create new ways of doing my job, like checks and balances to keep me on track on difficult days.

Instead, I learned to prepare myself to make mistakes, both big and small, and see them as some of my most important opportunities for growth. I learned to apologize well—to my spouse, to my child, and to my boss. I learned to take note of the lessons learned and course correct for better results next time.

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Looking back at my first year out of college, I’m grateful my journey wasn’t typical. I’m grateful those 12 months gave me so many chances to evolve into the person I am today. Because of that season, I am more flexible, mature, and see the world more positively than I would have had everything gone exactly as I hoped. 

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